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Celebrating Women Physicians

February 3, 2021

Medicine is historically dominated by men, and women – particularly women physicians – have often faced challenges and obstacles that made entering the field more difficult. On February 3 each year, we celebrate the birth of Elizabeth Blackwell, the nation’s first woman physician, during National Women Physicians Day.

The NCH Medical Group is proud to have 75 women who are surgeons, hospitalists, family practitioners, dermatologists, cardiologists and within many more subspecialties.

We reached out to ask them about their background and the influential women in their lives. Here are just a few of NCH Medical Group’s finest.

Nida Ahmed, M.D., RPVI
Vascular Surgery
Rush Medical College

According to my dad, I was seven when I decided I wanted to become a doctor.

After a recent event, the top female vascular surgeons throughout the country came together and invited us newer surgeons to form an online group. Through this group they created a movement in a very short period of time that led to changes in the editorial board of our major publication journal as well as major changes in our surgical society to place women in leadership positions that have historically always been filled by men. These women inspire me to become a future leader in my field and pave the way for those behind me as well. 

Monika Cohen, M.D.
Internal Medicine, specializing in comprehensive weight management
University of Illinois College of Medicine (Chicago)

I wanted to be a doctor since early childhood.

Dr. Olga Jonasson, Chief of Surgery at Cook County Hospital, first person to perform kidney transplant in Illinois. She was brilliant, poised and excelled at a time where there were few women in her position. She was tall to start with but when she walked onto our surgical ward it seemed to us she stood 10 feet tall, and she attracted everyone’s attention. I will never forget a conversation I had with her one night when she walked on the ward late to check on a patient.

Kathryn Eubanks, M.D.
Internal Medicine with interest in women’s health and preventative care
University of Illinois Chicago

I have wanted to be a physician for as long as I can remember. Though we did not have any doctors in our family, I grew up wanting to go into medicine, and I feel blessed to have been able to pursue my passion.

I have always admired Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her indomitable spirit and unwavering quest for knowledge and justice were truly an inspiration for women everywhere.

Nicole M. Geissen, D.O.
Thoracic Surgery
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

My father is a physician, and when I was little I would make rounds with him in the hospital. My parents say I always said I wanted to be a doctor. I changed my mind when I was in high school and started college as a business major. Before the end of my freshman year, I knew that medicine was my future and set my sights on making it happen.

My mother is the most influential female figure in my life. She always encouraged me to follow dream big and never back down.

Katherine Hansen, D.O.
Breast surgery
Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine

I wanted to be a surgeon at the age of 16. I shadowed a surgeon for a day as part of a school project and knew instantly that is what I wanted to do. I never thought about any other career after that. I started working for him soon after and I had further exposure that reinforced my decision. I made the decision to specialize in breast cancer while in general surgery residency.

I was not exposed to many female surgeons throughout my education and training and it wasn’t until I was a fellow (my last year in training) that I worked with someone who I could really call a mentor. She was smart, talented and compassionate and commanded so much respect by just being respectful of others. I try to emulate what she represented as both a successful surgeon and an empathetic caregiver. Luckily, more women are being represented in surgery, although still very few are in specialty surgery careers.

Allyson Jacobson, M.D., FACS
Breast Surgical Oncology (board certified in General Surgery, fellowship in Breast Surgical Oncology)
The Chicago Medical School/Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

My mother claims when I was 2 years old I said that I wanted to be a surgeon. For as long as I can remember I wanted to go into medicine. I used to play “doctor” games with my little sister. I remember watching a movie in high school biology about an open heart surgery on a dog which mesmerized me — perhaps I was the only one in the class watching! I pretty much knew then that my desire to be a surgeon was real.

There was a female character in a book I read years ago, set in Victorian London, who dreamed of becoming a doctor. Reading about her adventures and struggles intrigued me and motivated me to follow my own dreams. I remember being simultaneously captivated and horrified by the way disease was treated back then — it was unclear if the treatment or the disease itself was worse. It made me want to pursue medicine and make it better.

My mother also always encouraged me, and made me believe I could do anything I set my mind to. Once I was into surgical training, there were a few female surgeons along the way who supported me and challenged me to go farther than I thought I could.

Zehra Jaffery, M.D., FACC  
Gandhi Medical College India

I was around nine years old when I was fascinated by watching one of our family friends perform angiograms, and I decided this would be the field for me.

My mom, who is a housewife and always encouraged me to follow my dreams.

Jessica M. Knight, DPM AACFAS
Foot and Ankle Surgery, Deformity Correction
Dr. William M. Scholl College of Podiatric Medicine/Rosalind Franklin School of Medicine and Science

I knew I wanted to become a physician pretty early on in my life after being heavily involved in athletics and not only suffering from my own injuries, but also seeing my teammates as well. I knew I wanted to help people heal and return back to what they loved.

My mother has always been a driving force behind my career. As a single parent with her own career and her own family to support and provide, I never had any excuses not to take every opportunity given to me or to create my own. My success is the result of standing on the shoulders of strong women before me.

Erin L. Lynch, M.D.
Internal Medicine
University of Wisconsin Madison School of Medicine and Public Health

I worked as a medical assistant/front office staff for a dermatologist and she was a fantastic influence. She always spent the time to address all the needs of her patients and they left her office feeling listened to and helped.

Kathryn Mills, M.D.
Gynecologic Oncology
Indiana University School of Medicine

I think I was about 8 years old or so when I decided to be a doctor. My mom liked to tell the story of when I was in third grade and we were assigned to do our first research project.  I came home and stated I would like to research “Human Fetal Development!” Where I even learned what those words meant was a mystery, but my mom was wonderful and took me to the library and helped me find good sources of information for my project. We even made life-sized tracings of the fetus at each month of development and attached an object to the paper to demonstrate how much the average monthly weight would be. Ever since then, I knew I wanted to go into medicine.

Clearly, as described above, my mother was a big influence on me. But in terms of my career mentor, a general OBGYN, Dr. Renee Knutson, took me under her wing in my second year of medical school and showed me the world of women’s health, from annual exams to labor and delivery and everything in between. I fell in love with the field and haven’t looked back.

Vidya Shivakumar, M.D.  
Rush Medical College

I have had an interest in medicine since I was a child. My father is a retired primary care physician and ran a small practice in Kentucky. My mom also worked in the practice in an administrative role, and I spent many days during my summer holidays at the office. I really enjoyed the social aspect of medicine and appreciated how well my father and his staff knew all of the patients. The decision to pursue medicine in my own career slowly came together as I took more science classes and realized I really enjoyed the course material as well.

I have wonderful female role models including my mom, sisters and grandmother. Their work ethic and determination are incredible, and being surrounded by that kind of energy from a young age has been contagious. They are so supportive of me, and I am very lucky to have them in my life.

Courtney Snyder, D.O.
Family Medicine
Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine

I decided to pursue medicine when I was 18 years old.

My mother, who is a physician, influenced my decision.

Margarita G. Valdecantos, M.D.  
Family Medicine
UERMMMC, Philippines

I was probably 10 when I decided I wanted to be doctor.

My mother. She took up pre-med but did not pursue medicine because she had a family at an early age. Her dream came true with me and I am glad I did it.

Ina B. Villano, M.D. FACE
Adult Endocrinology
University of the Philippines College of Medicine

I have always wanted to be a physician. I honestly cannot recall a time growing up when I wanted to be anything else but a doctor.

There isn’t one individual that stands out. There are many women – my mom and sister, mentors, teachers, colleagues and co-workers – all of whom are smart, kind, hardworking and supportive of other women. It takes a community to highlight our skills and our strength.

Stacy Weiss, M.D.  
The Chicago Medical School/Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science

I decided I wanted to be a physician around 13 years old. One of my biggest influencers was my advisor in medical school, a rheumatologist and a wonderful physician, mother, advisor and overall human being. She was generous with her time and was caring and enthusiastic about medicine.

Evelyn White, M.D.  
Internal Medicine Loyola University-Stritch Chicago

I decided to become a doctor while an undergraduate student. I knew I wanted a career in the sciences, but narrowed it down in college.

My mother is a retired pathologist. She started her career at a time when there were not many women practicing medicine. She was a role model in that she worked full time as a physician, and was able to raise a family as well.

Catherine Wood, M.D., FACP, CPE, CSSGB  
Internal Medicine
Rush Medical College

I was 10 when I decided to pursue medicine. I had read Elizabeth Blackwell’s biography for a school project and was inspired by the path of the first female physician in America.

I have been fortunate to be supported by a close circle of female peers from medical school and residency that empower me to achieve my goals while providing feedback and validation both as a physician and as a mother and the balance of those two worlds.

Ranae L. Yockey, D.O., FACOG
Obstetrics and Gynecology, specializing in minimally invasive robotic surgery, integrative and functional medication
University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Services

I was10 years old when I knew I wanted to be doctor. My sister had an injury to her wrist and was bleeding after putting her hand through a glass door. I put a tourniquet on her arm and cleaned out the glass fragments. I then dressed the wound with supplies we had at home and our mother took us to our family doctor. He complimented me on my technique and let me cut the suture as he stitched her up. That is when I knew I wanted to be a surgeon.

Dr. Lane Goodall was very inspirational to me. She spoke in Des Moines about her travels and findings. She inspired me when she share the famous quote “do what you love, then it never feels like work!”